Lesson #15: Watch the curb. #lifetherps
I got my driver's license on August 2nd. Of this year. A mere two weeks ago, and about 15 years later than you'd expect, I passed my driving test.
This was not an easy feat for me. I wish this wasn't true, but it is true and for too long I've held a lot of shame and anxiety about not having this thing that everyone around me seems to have.
I've attempted the process of getting my driver's license twice in my twenties. Each time, my limiting beliefs and my issues about driving blocked me from pushing forward. And then, age 31, it became time once again to realize this goal.
Over the years, driving became much more than just driving. It became a monster, popping its head out when I was at my lowest, representative of all my failures - failures in my relationships, in my career. Things with my partner would have worked out, if only I had my driver's license. I'd feel like my life was more together if only I was driving. My mom's health issues could have been prevented (somehow, don't ask me how this works) if only I was the one driving her to the doctor's office.
This time around, I was committed. I studied for the written test. I passed the written test. I found a driving instructor whose focus was on helping women become confident drivers. I practiced driving with her. And then I scheduled the driving test and went to my parents' house and got in their car and drove to the DMV and took the test.
And then I failed it. And then a few weeks later - I failed it again.
My driving instructor, Rita, was fantastic - she's British and quippy and cares about politics and ceramics and we talked about dating and having children, and awkward Thanksgivings, and Trump. She said things that always sounded much more metaphorical than they were intended to be. One time she asked me why I was craning my neck forward while we drove down the road.
"I'm trying to see what's ahead of me, over these hills."
"By craning your neck? You can't see further than you can see. You don't need to see the entire road before you, just the next bit. That's also how you'll learn to drive in the dark."
Are you kidding me, Rita? Do you write horoscopes in your spare time?
Rita taught me to breathe in the car ("I haven't heard you exhale in over 4 minutes"). She taught me to trust myself and to look at the facts. "There's no car coming! You can go!" She'd say, laughing as my knuckles got whiter as I gripped the steering wheel for dear life.
"BUT WHAT IF ONE COMES?"
"But...one isn't coming right now. So go."
When I failed my first test, I - ever the seeker of validation from those I look up to - called her, my voice filled with shame. "I failed! I failed the test! I was doing FINE with you and then as soon as I was on my own, I failed."
We scheduled another appointment. I want to tell you it was to practice driving some more before rescheduling a second test, but it was mostly to see her, to hear her tell me it's ok. To tell me I could do it.
As we went along the road, talking and chatting as I'd become accustomed to doing with her, she asked -
"So what happened? You're a perfectly fine driver, Nina. Trust me, I have clients who are terrible drivers and I fear they will get their licenses and be on the road with us. But you ARE a good driver."
"I got nervous. The instructor said 'pull up to the curb here.'"
"And I drove onto it."
She laughs. "Oh no. Automatic failure."
Automatic failure. The words had been ringing in my head for two weeks. And now this woman was laughing about it. I felt like driving off a bridge.
And then I looked at her face and heard her calm and rational voice say, "oh you'll be fine next time Nina. Just watch the curb. It's there to keep you from driving off the road, remember?" And then I started laughing. I thought of Brene Brown's reminder that when we share our stories, we diminish our feelings of shame around those stories. I had left that first driving test feeling like a shell of a human being, absolutely worthless. But here we were, laughing at the idea of me immediately failing this test for something I had never done in all my lessons with Rita.
The second time I failed my driving test is a story - and lesson - for another day. This lesson is about what I learned from Rita. Rita taught me to feel like a comfortable driver. She reminded me that driving doesn't end once you get your license. It starts. She said it's ok to relax and that just because someone is honking doesn't mean it's at you and it doesn't mean they are right. She reminded me it's safer to go at the speed limit, that crawl under it. "Going slow doesn't mean you're safer." Oof.
Driving still makes me queasy, and my secret hope that all my problems would disappear once I had that plastic ID in my hand was still shattered - but I did it. I persevered, I faced my fears, I watched the curb and I stopped craning my neck to see things I couldn't see. I trusted myself in the driver's seat and I followed the road in front of me. Thanks Rita.